Pierre-Luc Dubois enjoying his time on the wing
Pierre-Luc Dubois is a natural center, it’s where he is most comfortable and it’s where he’s had the most success.
When Patrik Laine was sent to Columbus in a trade for Luc-Dubois, the Jets depth on the wings took a hit while their depth at center grew, giving the Jets arguably the deepest group of centers in the National Hockey League.
Dubois made his return to the Jets’ lineup on Sunday after missing four games with a muscle injury. Knowing he needed more stability and skill on the wings, head coach Paul Maurice elected to move Dubois to the wing, skating alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
It was a move that paid immediate dividends for the Jets as Dubois scored twice including the overtime winner, and Scheifele and Wheeler combined for six points.
"It felt good. My game still isn't where I know it can be. I can improve on a lot of things - timing, execution, reads, stuff like that, Dubois said. "(Scheifele) and (Wheeler) made it easy for me at times, helped me out when I was making wrong reads. But it felt good to be back out there with them."
The Jets return to action Thursday night for the first of two straight against the Montreal Canadiens who will be skating in their first games since the firing of Claude Julien.
While Maurice’s plan for Dubois is to return him to the middle at some point, he’s going to keep him on the wing for now, or at least until he’s forced to make some changes.
"If it's helping us win games and those guys are generating offense, all three of them will be real happy about it, Pierre-Luc included," Maurice said. "It's exciting. If it's not working for us, then he's going back into the middle and we'll be looking for a different combination. So I don't have a timeline on it."
It’s an interesting combination of forwards.
With Scheifele and Wheeler you have a pair of guys that like to pass the puck, but can also shoot and score when needed. Dubois brings a heavier game to that line, one that for one night at least, fit in very well with Scheifele and Wheeler.
“He’s a very powerful man. You see him without his uniform on and just in his shorts and t-shirt. He’s a young man, but in an adult body. He is just tapping into his potential as a player,” said Wheeler. “Some of the little things that he does with the puck, the way that he protects it and the way that he can make guys miss, he’s a pretty special player.”
Playing on the wing should help ease Dubois back into the swing of things. Between the time spent quarantining after his trade and his most recent injury, Dubois has played in just three games since Jan. 22.
By moving to the wing, Dubois is relieved of some of those extra duties that come with the center position, something that should help him ramp things back up and help get his game to where he wants it to be.
"I think there's definitely some of that. My first game back after the two weeks, when you're battling in the D-zone for 10-15 seconds and you can't battle with 50 percent, you have to battle 100 percent,” Dubois said. “And then you got to sprint to help the wingers, then you got to kind of sprint maybe to forecheck and then if it's a turnover, you come back and you're still sprinting to those battles in the D zone. It's definitely less taxing on the body as a winger.”
Putting three very skilled players together doesn’t always guarantee success. Talent can only take you so far, chemistry is needed. But in the Vancouver game, Dubois and his two new linemates looked like they had been playing together for years.
It looked easy at times.
"I had interest in seeing [Dubois] with those two guys, and you could see it. They had three shifts in the first period there in Vancouver, they got rolling a little bit in the offensive zone and eventually was exactly like the goal they scored,” said Maurice. “That was there from the start. And they're excited about it."
It’s an exciting time around Winnipeg as the Jets sit with the third most points in Scotia North division. It’s also an exciting time for Dubois who hopes to continue to make a positive impact in the Jets lineup post injury.
As long as he is contributing and the team continues to win hockey games, Dubois doesn’t care what position he is playing.
“That’s one thing my dad always told me, is if you can play all three forward positions, it can be easy for a coach to put you in the lineup,” said Dubois. “If it’s on the wing, it’s on the wing, if it’s center, it’s center.